« Superman - Look, Up In The Sky: Part Three | Main | Previews! Get your previews here! »

June 22, 2004



I've really enjoyed your analysis of Superman, Matthew. I was running a comic shop back during the reboot, and was terribly disappointed in it. After all these years you've managed to put your finger on what didn't work for me, and why Moore's "Last Superman Story" will remain the character's "true" final chapter, for me.


Bravo! Excellent Work! Now I have to go buy some back issues this weekend!


Matt - I must say these three essays have really conveyed your obvious affection and respect, pretty much intact, into the heart of this non-Supes guy. Very enjoyable reading, all. Thanks! Maybe someday I'll return the favor with a similarly loving paeon to some completely obscure set of books that _I_ can speak to authoritatively. Y'know, "Creeper, 30 Years Later" or "Power Factor, alternate mythos building in 5 issues or less".

Maybe not.

Jon Silpayamanant

Beautifully written. Now I must go read parts One and Two. As well as take a look back at those exile issues!

Ron Dingman

As a former "Marvel zombie" whose first significant exposure to "Big Blue" was through John Byrne's reboot -- and who never really followed Supes after Byrne stopped "doing" him -- I must admit that I'm hardly the best qualified reader to "yea"- or "nay"-say your thoughtful essays.

One thing that your essays have made me see, however, is that the Marvel character who is the closest counterpart to Superman is Captain America.

Both men strive to live up to philadelphian ideals that transcend national boundaries. Both men have killed but deeply regret having done so, and will bear any personal hardship to avoid doing so again. Both have hazy or non-existent memories of their parents. (Roger Stern resolved the contradictions arising from the Roy Thomas/Don Glut/Steve Gerber rethinking of Cap's origins in _CA_ #216 - 225 or so, in _CA_ #247, by having the Rogers family introduced in the Thomas/Glut/Gerber jury-rig prove to be artificial memories implanted in Cap's noggin, to confound any Nazi or Japanese interrogators should he be captured and tortured and/or drugged; probably as a result of this skullduggery, when the calamitous Baron Zemo II & the Masters of Evil [#3? or was it #4?] takeover of Avengers Mansion wrapped up in _The Avengers_, and Cap surveyed the wreckage of his Army footlocker and held the pieces of the shredded photo of his mother, he wept, telling Captain Marvel [#2: Monica Rambeau] that he couldn't remember his mother, that the now-shredded photo [the deed was done by Mister Hyde] of her was all he had of her. This story arc was also written by Stern, so very likely he was drawing on his earlier, all-too-brief run on Cap's own comic.) Both men are unable to have a steady, stable romantic relationship, settle down, live a normal life. Both men at times feel lost in the iconic power and prestige of their super-identities, and sometimes even worry that they can't possibly live up to the world's expectations of them, forgetting that they themselves set the bar so high in the first place. Both men have been exiled from their identities (in Cap's case, twice: first as The Nomad, second as The Captain). Both men are a half step out of place in the world. Both men have come back from the dead. Both men would have the same noble, self-sacrificing character even if they were stripped of their super-powers.

And, finally, both men suffer horribly when written by people who focus solely on their super-heroics. (Compare Mark Waid's ill-advised stint on _Captain America_ to Mark Gruenwald's spectacular ten year run. In just -- what was it? 11 issues? -- Waid managed to ignore, undercut, and bypass everything that Greunwald told us about Cap.)

David Fiore

Couldn't agree more Ron--the comparison is very apt...although, of course, Waid's take on Cap is more faithful to S&K's original conception of the character (about which I would say--"big deal! sometimes a concept blossoms at the expense of its roots, and Gruenwald's work is an excellent example of this...")


matt rossi

Like a dumbass, I responded to Ron's comment in email instead of on site: luckily, that email was saved by gmail. So here are the comments:

"As a former "Marvel zombie" whose first significant exposure to "Big Blue" was through John Byrne's reboot -- and who never really followed Supes after Byrne stopped "doing" him -- I must admit that I'm hardly the best qualified reader to "yea"- or "nay"-say your thoughtful essays.

One thing that your essays have made me see, however, is that the Marvel character who is the closest counterpart to Superman is Captain America."

The main difference being that Superman evolved more into the
character whereas Cap seems to have been intended always to be an avatar of America, but yes, the two characters seem to be very similar to me as well. The main differences (Cap a native son, Superman an immigrant, Cap a physically normal man at the peak of physical prowess, Superman a titan) really only serve to highlight that essential similarity of purpose and mentality, which you highlight so well. Basically, one of the notes I disliked in JLA/Avengers was that Superman and Cap were at each others throats: I'd have loved to see Busiek work up a thoughtful conversation between these two. Maybe Marvel and DC will get Roger Stern to write a crossover between the two of them: I'd be very interested in reading it.

I'll tell you, that Masters of Evil story, that was some mighty fine
comics from Mister Stern. I'm steadily coming to a real appreciation of his work, between his runs on Spider-Man, Avengers, Superman... he'd be a fine choice for Captain America again, I think, especially now that Mark Gruenwald's gone. You do an excellent job of pointing out the correspondences... one of the salient differences being that Superman has the Kents to provide him with memories of a family even if it's not his birth one, whereas Cap has had to *make* himself a family by involvement in the Avengers. The JLA simply isn't as tightly knit as the Avengers: it's more like a fraternity and sorority of like-minded folks, a club for super-heroes. The soap-operatic moments that worked so well in the Avengers with characters like Hawkeye, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man... it's hard to imagine them working so well in a JLA story, whereas a big starfish come to take over the world or the Shaggy Man is a quintessential JLA problem.

To be fair to Mark Waid, who I think has flashes of brilliance as a
writer, he was undercut by Marvel for the ill-concieved Rob Liefeld series, which is *truly* horrible. Under Gruenwald, actually, Cap resembles Superman a *lot* with the wild villains (Tess-One, the Serpent Society) and outrageous storylines (I seem to recall a long arc involving the old caveman with a magic rock in his chest Bloodstone, now that I think on it, that included Batroc, Zemo, the Red Skull... man, I'd love to watch the Red Skull and Luthor go at it, now that I think on it.) Once Waid came back, he seemed to have an interesting idea of where to go with the character and tried to use the big villains like Kang and the Red Skull, but I have to admit that I simply couldn't get into his take on the character. I loved Gruenwald's use of characters like Vermin, Arnim Zola... it was a very pure, almost atavistically Silver Age approach and in a lot of my best memories, had some kickass Mike Zeck art.

Yeah, get Mike Zeck and Roger Stern (and maybe Kerry Gammill, if he's still working) and turn them loose on a Cap/Superman crossover. That could be very cool.

Oh, and one final difference: Cap, possibly because he's not as
personally powerful as Superman, possibly because he's made the Avengers his home, is a much better tactician that Supes. I'd peg them as equally inspirational to their prospective teams, but Superman still isn't the combat monster Cap is in pure knowledge. Give Cap a misfit team consisting of a speedster, an archer and a mutant witch and he'll craft up a kicking battle plan in outside of a minute: Superman would probably try and do all the work himself.


Good ol' Roger Stern. He's one of those guys who flies under the radar; he never gets the attention that the superstars get, but you look back fondly on his runs. (Especially his run on Amazing.)

It has to be said, this was a great run of essays, Matt. Well done. (Hadn't commented before because you already know I love "Exile," if only for that one scene... "My name, tyrant, is Superman...AND I DON'T KILL!" Hell yeah.)

Orrin Grey

I'm heeding your call out for comments from your LiveJournal. I would have commented sooner, but I was otherwise occupied this last week or so and didn't get around to it.

I didn't really get into comics until the '90s, a miserable time to start reading them. I started out as a devotee of Marvel, and wasted a lot of my time with the various Image titles that inundated the market (mostly it was a waste, as well, though I did enjoy some of the titles that became part of Jim Lee's Wildstorm lineup later on). I never read much DC, for whatever reason, except a handful of older comics from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that were leftovers from my older brothers, but there were never enough of them for me to really form a solid view of the universe. I never even read the Dark Knight returns until I was in High School and sought it out. All this really grants my conceptions of comic books an unfortunate anti-DC bias. It's not that I don't like DC, it's just that, for whatever reason, I never read them.

So my conceptions of Superman, for example, are extremely limited. I don't think I've ever read a single one of the comics that you talked about here. And that's unfortunate. My conception of Superman obviously paints him in a shallower light than the way that he was actually represented, and your essays have definitely made me rethink my position on the character.

And, if my essay (if that is not too kind a term for it) about why I like Spider-Man was the catalyst of your brief discussion of Spider-Man in your LiveJournal post, I should probably apologize. Even though I made a couple of thinly-veiled comparisons between the two, it was never actually my intention to compare Superman and Spider-Man. I don't know enough about Superman for that. I just like Spider-Man quite a lot, always have, and was doing a quick glance over the reasons why.

Jon Silpayamanant

"get Mike Zeck and Roger Stern (and maybe Kerry Gammill, if he's still working) and turn them loose on a Cap/Superman crossover. That could be very cool."


The comments to this entry are closed.